Avro 555 “Bison”
British single-engined fleet spotter/reconnaissance aircraft

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[Avro 555 “Bison” (Aeroplane Series with gilt border, John Player & Sons, 1926, 25 of 50)]

Overview 2

  • Avro 555 “Bison”
  • Role: Fleet Spotter/Reconnaissance
  • Manufacturer: Avro
  • First flight: 1921
  • Introduction: 1922
  • Retired: 1929
  • Status: Retired
  • Primary user: Royal Air Force
  • Number built: 55

The Avro 555 “Bison” was a British single-engined fleet spotter/reconnaissance aircraft built by Avro.

Development and Design 2

The Bison was designed to meet the British Specification 3/21 for a carrier based fleet spotter and reconnaissance aircraft. An order for three prototypes was placed in October 1921, together with three of the competing design from Blackburn Aircraft, the Blackburn “Blackburn”. Avro's design, the Type 555 “Bison”, was a two-bay biplane, powered, like the Blackburn, by a Napier Lion engine. The deep slab-sided fuselage was constructed of steel tube, with the pilot sitting in an open cockpit forward of the wings, and the engine cowling sloping steeply down ahead of the pilot. An enclosed cabin with large rectangular windows on each side housed the navigator and radio operator and all their equipment, with sufficient room to stand upright, while a cockpit for a gunner armed with a Lewis gun on a Scarff ring was provided in the rear fuselage. The upper wings were mounted directly on the top of the fuselage.

The first prototype flew in 1921, with an order for 12 “Bison” I's following. The aircraft had handling problems, however, caused by interference of the pilots cockpit with the airflow over the upper wing. This was resolved by revising the wing design of the second prototype, raising the center section of the upper wing by 2 ft (0.6 m) and removed dihedral from the upper wings, flying in this form in April 1923. Further production orders followed with these modification incorporated as the “Bison II”, while some “Bison I's” were modified to a similar standard, sometimes known as the “Bison IA”. A “Bison I” was fitted with floats and retractable wheels but tests proved the design was not suitable for seaborne use.

Operational History 2

Although designed for a naval requirement the first deliveries were to the Royal Air Force in 1922 to replace the Westland “Walrus” for coastal reconnaissance work with No. 3 Squadron RAF. In April 1923, 3 Squadron was broken up to form a number of Fleet Spotter Flights of the Fleet Air Arm, Naval aircraft served on “HMS Argus”, “HMS Eagle” and “HMS Furious” and on-shore at Gosport, England and Hal Far, Malta. The aircraft were retired in 1929 when they were replaced by the Fairey IIIF.

Operators 2

United Kingdom:

  • Royal Air Force Fleet Air Arm 421 Flight FAA
  • Royal Air Force Fleet Air Arm 423 Flight FAA
  • Royal Air Force Fleet Air Arm 447 Flight FAA
  • Royal Air Force Fleet Air Arm 448 Flight FAA

Variants 2

  • Avro 555 “Bison”: Three prototypes to Air Ministry specification 3/21.
  • Avro 555 “Bison I”: Twelve “Lion II” powered production aircraft, survivors re-built as IA's
  • Avro 555 “Bison IA”: Bison Is modified with a biplane gap and additional dorsal fin.
  • Avro 555A “Bison II”: Improved variant with biplane gap modification, 23 built.
  • Avro 555B “Bison I”: One “Bison I” converted to an amphibian to meet Air Ministry Specification 8/23, not ordered into production.

Specifications (“Bison II”) 3

General Characteristics

  • Crew: 4
  • Length: 36 ft 0 in (10.98 m)
  • Wingspan:act 46 ft 0 in (14.02 m)
  • Height: 14 ft 2 in (4.32 m)
  • Wing area: 630 ft2 (58.6 m2)
  • Empty weight: 4,116 lb (1,871 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 6,132 lb (2,787 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Napier Lion II, 480 hp (358 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 108 mph (94 knots, 174 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 90 mph (78 knots, 145 km/h)
  • Range: 360 mi (313 nmi, 580 km)
  • Service ceiling: 12,000 ft (3,660 m)
  • Rate of climb: 450 ft/min (2.3 m/s)


  • Guns: 1 × fixed forward firing .303 in Vickers machine gun and 1 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis Gun on Scarff ring
  • Bombs: Provision for underwing bomb racks


  1. Shupek, John. Avro 555 Bison 3-view drawing and card image via The Skytamer Archive, Copyright © 2014 Skytamer Images. All Rights Reserved
  2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Avro Bison
  3. Jackson, A. J. (2000). Avro Aircraft Since 1908 (2nd ed.). London: Putnam. pp. 204-208 ISBN 0-85177-797-X.

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